José James: No Beginning No End

In case there was any doubt, No Beginning No End, José James’ stunning Blue Note debut, confirms his place among the soul brethren elite, alongside Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Bill Withers. This 11-track set of originals, nine written or co-written by James plus two from celebrated R&B vocalist and guitarist Emily King, showcases a shifting lineup of stellar players, including keyboardists Robert Glasper, Kris Bowers and Grant Windsor, drummers Chris “Daddy” Dave and Richard Spaven, guitarists King and Nir Felder, trombonists Alistair White and Corey King, trumpeter and flugelhornist Takuya Kuroda and bassists Solomon Dorsey and Pino Palladino (apart from James, the album’s most consistent presence).

Though James opens with the funky, ska-scented and deliciously sensuous “It’s All Over (Your Body),” followed by “Sword + Gun,” a driving, percussive rallying cry for peace featuring Franco-Moroccan vocalist Hindi Zahra, No Beginning No End is a generally quiet affair, focused primarily on love’s fragility. The befogged “Vanguard,” made all the more otherworldly by Glasper’s haunting accompaniment on Fender Rhodes, ably captures the delicate anticipation of budding romance, and the slow, sweet “Heaven on the Ground,” written by King and featuring her on both guitar and companion vocals, is rapturously beautiful.

But James seems more fixed on romantic decay. There is “Come to My Door,” King’s lovely, James Taylor-esque ode to lost love, shaped as a vocal duet with Dorsey; the hushed, gliding “Bird of Space” that traces the still-smoldering passion at the heart of a fading relationship; and the groovy post-breakup angst of “Trouble.” Most powerful is the closing “Tomorrow,” a superbly constructed, stop-and-start mélange of hope and pain.